I was talking to my brother on the phone the other night, in a cab, on the way to a party. Since I live in the middle of Brooklyn and the party was in Manhattan, this gave us some time to catch up. And, I admit, the call prevented me learning the names of all of the family members of my driver or the story of how he met his wife. In my neighborhood, most of the gypsy cab drivers are from South America and, well, you wouldn’t believe how much I know about snake hunting in Ecuador.
Jon doesn’t usually have that much time to talk. He and my sister-in-law are working parents with two kids and he’s got a teenage son from his first marriage who causes him no little concern. The boy lives with his mother in another state and while he’s a super good kid, you know, he’s sixteen. Lately, he’s been acting out a little. So, Jon and I usually speak in abbreviated bursts.
Things were a tad more calm this time because he was alone in a hotel room in Texas. He just got a new job outside Austin and he’s there working and looking for a house while Dorothy stays with the kids to sell their place in the Pacific Northwest. I got all the details on this. They are not considering any property without a pool. Despite being hard on the kids, it sounds like it’ll be a great move for them. They’ll be closer to family, including me and my older nephew, and Dorothy may not have to work.
Then we’re on to me. Because I live on another planet, namely New York City, the questions and answers differ. Of course I don’t own property and I’ve never been married or had a child. So he wants to know about my business, when that reality show is going to air, and boys. So far so good, I hope it gets cancelled, and listen to this one!
I tell him how I’ve been making an effort to go out more and meet people, but I’m largely uncomfortable with the kind of attention I’ve been getting from men. Then there was someone potentially…I don’t know, someone with potential. We had a great first date and then this weird, flailing follow up on his part where he confirmed and then cancelled our second date. “And then I never heard from him again,” I said.
“He got a better offer.” This was Jon’s assessment. And this is one of the many things I love about him. He speaks to me like an equal and he always has. He’s not going to sugarcoat it. He’s telling me how it is. And still I say, “No such thing!”
“He probably asked out several ladies for that night and went with the one who seemed like the least complicated sure thing.”
I am still clinging to my girl mindset when I say, “But this guy was into me. He was trying to impress me and…”
“Sometimes, that’s just what we do.”
“I don’t know,” I say, “he didn’t seem like a player. The things he said to me, they’re not in The Game. And at this point, I have a pretty good bullshit detector.”
“Maybe,” he says, “but you don’t have a cock.”
And those were the magic words. I awoke from my stupor to see that I had been stupid, again. Some guy picked me up in a bar because I looked cool and aloof—out of reach—and then, when I wasn’t, he wasn’t interested. Sometimes I feel like if I had known Jon my whole life, my whole life would be a lot easier.
I grew up an only child. Without getting too far off track, I will say that I was not a very happy child. I was shoplifting by the time I was ten. At eleven, I was spiking my Kool Aid. I started driving when I was twelve. I ran away at thirteen, only to be delivered right back home. I had sex for the first time when I was fourteen. By the time I was fifteen, I saw that these stunts were not getting me the kind of attention I wanted. In short, I understood that my home life was never going to be satisfying.
The best thing I could hope for was to get away for good. The running away thing hadn’t worked out too well, so I decided to bide my time until college. I got a job. I sat in my room and read books. I listened for car doors and mood swings and I pretended I wasn’t there. When I got my actual driver’s license, I barely ever was.
This was the tenuous nature of my household when I was a teenager. After having overlooked me for years—we had our better moments, but mostly before I was ten and after I was twenty—my father was absolutely puzzled as to why I was never around. He was on wife number three when he told me I had a half brother, so I wasn’t all that surprised to hear that he’d gotten his high school girlfriend in trouble and that they’d given up the baby for adoption.
I met my brother on my seventeenth birthday, right around Thanksgiving, 1991. He was 23 and he didn’t talk to me like I was a kid or a girl or, for that matter, like he needed me to like him. He told me plainly that he had a little boy, he was divorced, he was in the Army reserves, and he owned a gun rack. Bookish, sheltered, and not very trusting, I put him through my social litmus test of the moment. I made him listen to Dennis Miller’s 1987 comedy record, The Off-White Album. We bonded over verbose and incredibly articulate dick jokes.
From what he’s told me, Jon had a fairly stable young life. His parents also adopted a girl, so he grew up with a sibling. He was in a band in high school. He scored a perfect 100 on his driver’s test (to my 97). He also beat me on the ACT test (and, I feel compelled to tell you, my score was very high). It must be something in the genes because he took three dates to his prom and not one of them knew about the others. There is something legendary, and familiar, in that story.
No matter how hard an act he would have been to follow, I can’t help but wish he had been my brother then. I dwell on how cool it would’ve been to have had him around during all that adolescent crap. I daydream about him being there to break it down for me when my best friend turned on me in the eighth grade. “Hill,” he’d have said, “You got boobs before anyone else. He wanted to touch them and you wouldn’t let him.” On my own, seriously, it took me about ten years to puzzle that one out.
The reality check is there’s just no way our shit could’ve gone down like that. The thing I dig the most about Jon is that he grew up. He put in his time as the bad boy, but somewhere along the way he decided to become an adult. It’s the reason we can have the kind of conversations we’ve been enjoying for the last fifteen years. It’s also something our dad never did. So, if Jon had shared my childhood, would he ever have made that choice? In such an environment, I’m not confident he would have been equipped to do it.
The other, more obvious problem is that I wouldn’t have been born. If dad and Jon’s biological mom had gotten married, dad probably wouldn’t have gone out with my mom. If so, probably not until way later. And even if my parents would’ve had a kid, it probably wouldn’t have been me. Even if it was me, Jon would still be about six years older, so by the time I had to deal with boys he’d have gone away to college. I still would’ve had to go through all that adolescent crap alone.
If you’ve read this far, you know me a little. I ruminate. I imagine. I analyze. I over think everything. And I work at home, so no responsibilities are so pressing as to halt these pursuits. Lately, as the cogs crunch and roll in my brain, it kind of makes sense that I spent most of my teenage nights sitting alone in my room, save for the company of fiction. It has something to do with ending up readerly, writerly, and in New York. And as little as I know about where I’m headed, I’m sure this is where I’m supposed to be.
My thought for the day—my point in all this—is that you get what you get. Work with it! Try to be patient. Every once in a while, you end up with something or someone totally, unexpectedly great. Often enough, it’s a come true you never thought to dream.